Words by Nneka Samuel
Sometimes I wonder if there’s a sign that hovers in the air directly above the heads of people with dreadlocks, a sign visible only to the curious that reads: “Touch Me.” Either that, or there’s a little devil on their shoulder that coaxes them to touch without thinking, let alone asking (not that asking merits contact). The texture, the thickness, the myriad sizes and colors – these are but a few of the physical attributes that make dreads a thing of beauty. But what some have yet to learn is that dreads are not tools for public consumption.
I don’t even have dreads and I’m annoyed at the bold, blatant and flat out disrespectful encounters I’ve observed between mostly white people and people of color with dreads. Besides being an invasion of privacy and personal space, these exchanges are often examples of white privilege at play. When was the last time you’ve seen a black person ask to touch a white person’s hair? Never? And how often is white hair called out, relegated as “ethnic” or “other”; assigned negative attributes like wild, unmanageable, or impossible to deal with?
Imagine you’re minding your own business when you’re suddenly berated with question after question from a perfect stranger who expects you to supply them with answers about your hair on command. As if. Such encounters, especially when accompanied by unwanted touching, call to mind feelings of exploitation and fetishization. Dreadlocks are not akin to petting zoos. Nor are they relics on display at a museum. As we’ve discussed in this series before, each proud wearer of locs has their own reasons for having them, but I’m sure fulfilling strangers’ desires aren’t one of them.
This is a little known fact, but dreads are actually comprised of hair. I know, it surprised me too when I first found out! Simply put, hair is hair. No matter the texture or curl pattern, hair doesn’t grow any differently out of the heads of dreadlocked people. Hair grows from the follicle underneath the skin, and that goes for each and every one of us. This is not to diminish hair’s importance, however, as some dread wearers might see their hair as a sacred part of their identity, or fraught with religious meaning. Regardless, hair is common to us all.
Now, if you have dreads and you’re not at all phased when someone sees that invisible sign above your hair, and you don’t mind letting that person cop a feel, then by all means, ignore these words. If you’re reading this and have perpetrated any of the ghastly scenarios mentioned herein, I hope that next time the mood strikes you, you’ll think twice before putting your phalanges up in someone’s dreaded mane.